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The Billionaires Playground - 1890 - The Last Time the National Wealth was this Unbalanced

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Friday, May 20, 2011

CHARACTER FLAW


I would suggest that in its beginings the life of Charles Edward Coughlin was marked with omens and portents -  and by a smothering mother. In the end it was marked by farce and melodrama. And that ending may not have been entirely his fault. He wanted to be a politician. Instead his mother pressured him to put on the collar.She won.  In 1916 Charles was ordained as a Catholic Priest. He was assigned as a teacher to Assumption College, in Sandwich, Ontario. But on Sundays he crossed the border to preach at churches in Detroit.It was in Detroit that Charles (above) used his God given talents for speaking and making political connections. His sermons impressed the Bishop of Detroit, Michael Gallagher, who made certain the young man met the right people – rich and important people - like City Councilman John Lodge and his niece, Evangeline Lindberg, and auto maker Henry Ford. In 1923 Bishop Gallagher (above) offered the rising star his own parish, a new suburban church, “The Shrine of the Little Flower”, in Royal Oak, Michigan. Initially there were only 25 members of the congregation, and Father Coughlin’s mother had to sell trinkets in the gift shop. Faced with empty coffers and pews, Father Coughlin used his connections with Mrs. Lindberg and her son, the as yet unknown flyer Charles Lindberg, to convince the management of tiny radio station WJR to provide him with a free hour on Sunday afternoons. His first broadcast (above), on October 3, 1926 produced only eight letters in response. But it was a beginning. It is interesting to note the commonality of Charles' message supported by those powerful and wealthy names from Detroit; religious certainty, anti-communism, anti-Semitism, and an affinity for fascism. Certainly all these threads came together in Father Coughlin, but clearly they were aleady present in Charles and much of upper class Detroit of the 1920’s.By 1930 Father Coughlin’s audience numbered over 40 million, and it was said you could listen to “The Fighting Priest” and his entire “Golden Hour of the Little Flower” through open windows as you walked down any residential street in America on a Sunday afternoon. Father Coughlin preached a practical Christianity with, said one observer, “…a voice of such mellow richness, such manly, heart-warming, confidential intimacy, such emotional and ingratiating charm,…". It was a voice, added the commentator,
"made for lies.” As the radio show grew in popularity Charles he started a magazine, "Social Justice" and soon it had over 30 million readers. The subscriptions that poured in built a new, magnificent octagonal edifice on Twelve Mile Road and Woodward, in Royal Oak, and paid for Charles' network of broadcast stations.Coughlin blamed communism for the rising divorce rate, and called for old age insurance for American workers - what would eventually become Social Security. He supported Roosevelt in the 1932 election (“Roosevelt or Ruin”), but by 1935 Coughlin was calling him “The great betrayer and liar…Franklyn Double-Crossing Roosevelt”. Coughlin renamed the “The New Deal” the “Jew Deal” and sent demonstrators into the streets to block the acceptance of any more Jews escaping Nazi persecution. They were thus returned to Germany for execution. And yet modern excusers like to say he was "accused" of anti-Semitism. Look at the art work from his weekly newspaper (above and below) and make your own assessment. Does that look like anti-Semitism to you? Who but an anti-Semite would deny it? At the time Coughlin openly justified his anti-Semitism by claiming “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted” and promised, “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.” He preached the same strain of ugly hatred that underlay Charles Lindberg’s “America First” committee, and Henry Ford’s American publication of the Czarists fraud the “Protocol of the Elders of Zion”. Coughlin even serialized the fraudulant "Protocol" in his own newspaper. I would say that qualified him as an anti-Semite. It is also clear in retrospect that Father Coughlin was not above enlightened self interest. After Roosevelt took America off the Gold Standard, Coughlin campaigned strongly for substitution of the Silver Standard. Few knew at the time that Father Coughlin was one of the largest private holders of silver in the America. An uncharitable depiction of the man might suggest he was as obsessed with money as any Jew. But what finally destroyed Father Coughlin was his support for “The Christian Front”. Coughlin's association with "The Front" was not merely philosophical. He spoke at Front rallies (below), and allowed his name and image on Front advertising.Then in January of 1940 (another Roosevelt election year) the F.B.I. swept into the Front's Brooklyn offices, arresting nine men and seizing 15 bombs, 18 cans of cordite, dynamite, fuses, incendiary chemicals, 16 rifles, 750 rounds of machine gun ammo and “one long sword”. At a press conference Director J. Edgar Hoover claimed that "The Front" was plotting to blow up a Jewish newspaper, a movie theatre showing Russian films, a Post Office, and the Federal Reserve Bank, and thus spark a revolution (Oh, and it was also alledged they wanted to assassinate President Roosevelt). The trial of "The Christian Front" conspirators was no easier than the trial of the Chicago Seven. There is a strain in American juries which, in the cool light of day, don't like to convict people for thinking about a crime. The Front's defendants were largely acquitted. But the revolations, the weapons seized and the attention to the language used by Father Coughlin in support of the Front, caused much of the public support for Father Coughlin evaporate. Lord knows, the Catholic church had long wanted The Fighting Priest to shut up. And with Roosevelt's re-election in 1940 and the entry of the U.S. into the war in 1941, Democratic politicians no longer felt the need to handle Father Coughlin with care. First his radio network was squeezed under new fairness rules, and then the Post Office deemed his magazines as anti-American and stopped providing them with volume discounts for delivery.The final prop fell away when Bishop Gallagher died in 1942. The new Bishop of Detroit, Frances Mooney, immediatly ordered Coughlin to stop his public crusades. And being a good little soldier, he did. With the discovery of Hitler’s death camps in 1945, Coughlin's brand of virilent anti-Semitism was also finished as a mass movement in America, at least for the time being. Thus the curtain finally fell on the career of an American priest who wanted to be a politician. This bitter, hate spewing little man who had pledged his life in service of the "Prince of Peace" died in well deserved obscurity in 1979. By then it had become clear that if you removed the hatred from his message, Father Coughlin had nothing original left to say. For about ten years America seemed willing to go along with the “Fighting Priest”.  But, like a later hate monger and anti-Semite, Glen Beck, why was Charles Coughlin so full of anger and hatred? Why did he hate people he did not know? Who was he really angry with? I do not presume to know. But I do know that hatred and anger always destroys its owner. And that is a fact. Hate is a character flaw. The Americas eventual rejection of “The Father of Hate Radio” may not have been so much about a sense of decency, as was about the public's fickle tastes. It is an enduring truth about both politics and religion, and twice as true twice as fast when the two are combined, that the hotest fad is usually the first to fade. Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
You can see a little hope in that, if you wish to. It’s up to you.
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A HOLE IN THE HEAD


I suppose there are a hundred measures by which to assess the history of Phineas P. Gage.The most unlikely might be the field of phrenology, which held that just as a lifetime of muscular exertion leaves evidence on the leg and arm bones, mental endeavors - personality, intelligence and emotions - leave tell-tale imprints on the top of the skull; or so the theory went. Practitioners, like the American Orsen Squire Fowler, would run their fingers over the bumps on your head and divined your occupation, your character flaws, even why you were having trouble sleeping. But as Fowler acknowledged, "....phrenology is either fundamentally true or else untrue..." - a statement standing alone is undoubtedly true. But the ultimate proof of phrenology would be provided by the words Pheneas P. Gage.
Phineas was originally an Egyptian title, meaning a dark or bronze skinned oracle. He first appears in the Old Testament  (Numbers 25, verses 7-8), as a priest's son who spies the Hebrew prince Zimri entering the Tabernacle with a Midianite woman. In a fit of offended religious passion, Phineas runs them both through with a spear. For this double murder, Moses rewards Phineas. His namesake may have paid the price for that excess of zeal.
His family name was English. Almost half of all modern English words were adopted from the French spoken in Normandy in 1066, the year the Normans conquered England. This Old French was mostly based on the everyday language spoken by Roman soldiers. In their Vulgate Latin a "jalle" was a measure of liquid, equal to our gallon, and a "jalgium" was the stick or rod inserted into an amphora to measure how much wine was left. Over centuries the pronunciation became a "gaunger". And after the "Great Vowel Shift" in English at the end of the Middle Ages, the pronunciation was shortened to "gage". Thus a gauge is a standard of measurement, or a tool used to measure. And by a happy coincidence, that describes Phineas Gage perfectly - an oracle of measurement.
In 1823 Phineas P. Gage was born in the southern New Hampshire village of Lebanon. He grew into a strikingly handsome young man, and a natural leader. At 24 years of age he became a "Navvie" for the Burlington and Rutland Railroad. The term was borrowed from canal builders who plotted their work cross-country by compass - inland navigators they were called. Phineas quickly rose to the level of foreman, and was entrusted with the dangerous job of blasting through the hard New England granite to ensure a level road bed for the rails.
In 1825 Englishman George Stephenson's locomotive "The Rocket" took less than two hours to haul 36 wagons of coal nine miles to the docks on the River Tees. His steam locomotive was not only a revolution in speed, but also reduced transportation costs by two thirds. George had set his new rails four feet eight and one-half inches apart because that was the "gauge" of the old rails, used when the wagons were pulled by horses. Customers now literally followed in Stephenson's tracks. Of course, George had since improved on his design, adding six inches for increased stability. But rather than replace these 1,200 miles of substandard rails already in use, the royal commission of 1845 decreed that four feet eight and one-half inches would be the "Standard Gauge" for Britain, and eventually most of the rest of the world. That same year, 1845, George Stephenson, "Father of the railways" was married for the third time. And shortly thereafter he died.
Three years later, on Wednesday September 13th, 1848 a Rutland and Burlington Railroad construction crew, headed by the 25 year-old foreman Phineas P.Gage, was preparing a road bed outside of the little mill town of Cavendish, Vermont. Each member had a simple job, which is to say their collective task was a technically complicated jigsaw puzzle of mundane occupations, which when combined in a specific order, changed the world. In this case, an engineer would determine where rock was to be removed. Other men would drill a hole into the rock Phineas Gage would then pour a measure of black powder into the hole. Then he would pour a measure of sand on top of the powder. Then Phineas would insert a fuse through the sand into the powder. Then he would drop a 35 pound, three and a-half foot long iron tamping rod into the hole to compact the charge. Finally, Phineas would light the fuse.
After the resulting explosion, workers would remove the broken rock and the engineer would determine where the next charge would be placed
After a had day's work, at just about 4:30 P.M., Phineas ordered his weary drilling team to take cover yet again. Again he poured black powder into the drill hole, but in haste he forgot to add the sand. So when he shoved down the iron tamping rod, it sparked against the granite. And without the insulating sand, that set off the black powder.
There was a sharp loud crack. In something less than one second, the 35 pound rod was driven out of the hole, penetrating just below Gage's left cheek bone, destroying his left eye, plowing through his brain and blasting out the top of his skull. The tamping rod landed 80 feet away, smeared in blood and brain matter..
The startled crew rushed to Phineas' assistance and found him awake and alert. With assistance he clambered aboard an ox cart, and suffered the jarring forty-five minute long, three quarters of a mile ride back to his boarding house in Cavendish, where he waited for an hour on the front porch for the arrival of Dr. Edward Williams. "I first noticed the wound," wrote the good doctor, "before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct."
The doctor recorded that his patient had a pulse of 60, was breathing regularly and his pupils were reactive. He reported no pain. "Mr. Gage...was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders," wrote Dr. Williams, ".(and then) got up and vomited; the effort...pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor."
The tamping rod had performed the first recorded frontal lobotomy in modern history on Phineas Gage's brain, disconnecting and destroying that part of his mind which dealt with "....future consequences... chooses between good and bad actions... (and) override(s) and suppress unacceptable social responses..." (Wikapedia - "Frontal Lobe"). Patients subjected to a frontal lobotomy do "...not respond to imaginary situations, rules, or plans for the future...pursued immediate gratification without regard for consequences.... (and) tended to be distracted by immediate stimuli" In addition, the patient displays "an empty euphoric effect...(and) can get unusually aggressive and tends to use puns a lot." In other words, Phineas Gage was a new gauge.
Despite several setbacks, Phineas was able to travel the thirty miles to his mother's home, in Lebanon, New Hampshire in time for Christmas, 1848. He returned to Cavendish in April of 1849, and Dr. Harlow noted "his physical health is good, and I am inclined to say he has recovered. Has no pain in (his) head, but says it has a queer feeling which he is not able to describe." Phineas' cryptic response brings to mind the 12 year old boy who was subjected to a pre-frontal lobotomy in 1960. Forty-five years later he told an interviewer, "I've always felt different - wondered if somethings missing from my soul."
Phineas never worked as a "navvie" again. Briefly he tried selling his story via public speaking engagements, and displaying his rod. But handsome though he still was, that career never suited him. Despite rumors that he appeared in P.T. Barnum's museum in New York, there is no evidence he ever did. Instead, in 1851, he found a job at the Hannover Inn in Dartmouth, New Hampshire, as a stable hand and coach driver. Perhaps he found animals a better gauge of Gage than humans. Then in 1854 he moved to another stage line this time in Valparaiso, Chile. He took with him his "constant companion", that iron tamping rod. Phineas held down his new job for seven years, far longer than you would expect from an unpredictable violent man. Those too are just rumors.
But one of the occasional side effects of a frontal lobotomy are seizures caused by scar tissue within the brain. And those now struck Phineas. In 1859 Phineas rejoined his mother, sister and her husband, who were now living in California. He got a job as a farm hand in Santa Clara County, at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. But the seizures got worse, and on May 21st, 1860 he died of what the doctors called complications of epilepsy, six months short of twelve years after he forgot to load the sand atop the black powder.
Phineas Gage died just as the American Civil War was exploding. Over the next four years the number of survivors with brain injuries multiplied. Doctors now had patients and skulls aplenty to examine, and upon reflection they reached several conclusions. First, it was clear that the bumps on the top of the head were not denotative of anything going on inside the skull. Phrenology was bunk. But the disabilities of various head wound survivors was proof that different sections of the brain did perform different functions.
And third, the old adage that medicine is the search for profit after death, was confirmed when in 1866, Dr. Harlow convinced (paid?) Phineas' sister and brother-in-law to disinter Phineas just long enough to chop off his head and ship it and the tamping rod back to Boston. There Doctor Harlow used it as an exhibit in his second (and more colorful) paper written which made Phineas famous as the the man who reset the gauge for brain injuries.
Meanwhile the standard gauge of American railroads is still just four feet eight and one-half inches. I guess some things never change.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

THE LITTLE GREEN HOUSE ON K STREET - PART FOUR

I do not find it surprising that less than an hour after prohibition became the national law, at midnight on January 17th 1920, six armed men stole $100,000 worth of “medicinal whiskey” out of two rail cars parked unguarded on a Chicago siding. Even at that early moment America's dream for a moral nation, drunkenly stumbled over the sobering reality that alcohol has never been a mere beverage.
In 1920, the first year of national prohibition,  35,000 doctors would be granted permits to prescribe various potable forms of alcohol for thier patients -  those suffering from strokes and stress as well as the long term pain of arthritis, cancers, congenital headaches, congestive heart problems, depression and the general aches and pains of old age. That same year the company which distilled “Old Grand Dad” reorganized itself as The American Medicinal Spirits Company and kept right on distilling  “Old Grand Dad Whiskey” . In fact their business was booming. In the first five years of prohibition, the manufacture of hard liquor in America more than doubled.
As an article for “The Nation” magazine lamented in 1921, “In the U. S. are 27 warehouses in which 15,000,000 gallons of liquor are stored. The liquor is private property held for legal sale as medicine..A system of permit withdrawals was devised by the enforcement officials..for each case (3 gallons) of liquor. It very soon became apparent that a vast amount of fraud was being perpetrated.” It was this fraud that filled the backyard bank of the Little Green House on K street. The author of that article was Roy Haynes.
Each “Withdraw Permit” had to be signed by the Prohibition Commissioner, Roy Asa Haynes (above), who was famous in anti-saloon league politics and a political appointee by President Harding. The going price for each permit from the Ohio Gang on K Street was $15.00. The very first permits, for the withdrawal of some 2,000 cases of alcohol, was issued to the General Drug Company of Chicago, for which J.B. Kraffmiller was paid $20,000, cash. He kept $6,500 and passed on the rest to Howard Mannington at 1625 K Street, who divided it amongst the rest of the Ohio Gang, each member getting $2 per case. Even the General Drug Company got a one dollar kickback, for the use of their good name. What General Drug did not get was the booze. That went directly to the bootleggers who had actually bought the liquor and paid the bribes. They passed along this overhead to their customers,  who happily paid a dollar for a drink which the year before had cost them a quarter. And as Agent Means in the basement of 1625 K street sang, my God, how the money rolled in. The very first year of prohibition, it is estimated, bootleggers made about $100 million dollars in profits. K street was not guilty of booklegging. They were merely the facilitators.
The bag man in this facilitation was Jess Smith (above), the Attorney General's “jovial, rotund, combination confidant and valet.” Agent Means described him this way; “Poor Jess, he was a typical city department-store floor walker, transplanted into alien aisles....at a complete loss. And how he loved clothes. He worshiped Daugherty with a dog-like devotion.” This seedy looking man in expensive suits was the go-between, shuffling from his boss and idol, Attorney General Harry Daugherty (and Roy Haynes) and Henry Mannington and J.B. Kraffmiller in the little Green K Street house.  Two or three times each week Jess would arrive at 1625 K Street to deliver instructions and payoffs, and pickup the cash that been laundered through an Ohio bank owned by AG Daugherty's brother Milo. Jess Smith kept everything straight in the meticulous notebooks he carried on him, the “who”, the “how much”, the “for what”, and the “for whom.”
It was the sweetest deal in the history of K Street, and you just knew some schmuck was going to screw it up. The schmuck turned out to be the keeper of the backyard bank, Federal Agent Agent Gaston Means (above). For him bountiful was never enough. In the winter of 1922 Means got his hands on several blank Withdrawal Permits. He forged Haynes' signature, and started selling them on his own. It took very little time for word to get back to Daugherty, who, in February, suspended Means from the Bureau of Investigation. But the Attorney General dare not remove Means from the Little Green House, because Means had all those file cabinets in the basement, stacked with names, dates and amounts.  
In the mid-term elections of November, 1922 the Republicans lost five seats in the House and the Democrats were beginning to percolate over Republican scandals as a 1924 campaign issue. So in the spring of 1923 Daugherty was forced to go to the President and tell him of the trouble Means was causing. It was decided a sacrificial lamb would have to be offered up to the Democrats, and since it could not be Means, “poor Jess” was tailor made for the role, you might say. Jess had his own notebooks, but because of his devotion to the Attorney General he could be controlled.
On the morning of Tuesday, May 29th, 1923 Jess Smith played golf with Attorney General Daugherty, and was informed that he had to leave Washington the next day, permanently. Jess did not take it well. Daugherty then proceeded to the White House, where he phoned another associate, Warren Martin, and ordered him to go the Wardman Hotel and stay with Smith until the poor man was out of town. At six the next morning, Martin was suddenly awakened in his room by an explosion. He found the 61 year old Jess Smith, in his pajamas and a dressing gown, lying on the floor of Daugherty's bedroom. Smith's head was inside a wastepaper can, a bullet through his brain. A gun lay on the floor, inches from his fingers. There was no autopsy. His death was ruled a suicide by a friendly doctor. His meticulous notebooks and personal correspondence had mysteriously disappeared.
Sixty four days later, on the second of August, President Warren G. Harding died of a heart attack in a San Francisco hotel. For a time the fact that "Silent Cal" Coolidge was now President made little difference to the business of K Street. But inevitably, when dealing with crooks, somebody eventually screwed things up, again. This time it was Jess Smith's ex-wife, Roxy Stinson. Cheated out of what she thought was her share of Jess' share, Roxy spilled her guts to a Senate investigating committee, and on March 28th, 1924, President Coolidge demanded Daugherty's resignation. Daugherty said, “ "I wouldn't have given 30 cents for the office of Attorney General, but I won't surrender it for a million dollars." Then he added, “I have no personal feeling against the President. I am yet his dependable friend and supporter." And then he resigned.
In June of 1924, Gaston Means was sentenced to four years for perjury. Once out of prison he wrote a book, “The Strange Death of President Harding”. It was an instant best seller, a well written inventive concoction of half truths and fantasy. Still desperate for money, in 1932 Means claimed to have been contacted by the kidnappers of the Lindbergh baby. He was arrested after stealing the supposed $100,000 ransom, and sentenced (above) to fifteen years. He died of a heart attack in Leavenworth Prison, in 1938.
Howard Mannington died in 1932, at the age of 64, of a "lingering illness". Henry Daugherty (above) was indicted in 1926 for accepting bribes. The jury deadlocked, 7-5 in favor of conviction. His second trial ended in another hung jury, this time 11 – 1 for conviction. But the government gave up. In 1932 Daugherty published his own book, “The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy.” It did not sell well. In October of 1940 Henry suffered two heart attacks which left him bedridden. He died in his own bed on October 12, 1941, a very rich man. And that was the point..
Now, the Little Green House on K Street was vacant again. The graft it had contained certainly did not end. It just got bigger and more professional.
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